Recently, while walking in Canada’s most expensive city, in the worn 1000 block of Granville Street, I came across a middle aged man slumped; still in a standing position, balanced on an invisible fulcrum, his face pushed into the corner of a Vape store wall. Pants down passed his hips, his dirt streaked ass and genitals exposed to those walking by, all of whom were trying unsuccessfully to not look over. He was in a battle to hang on to something, immersed into a mental space few of us could imagine or would want to go. Immune to embarrassment and long past caring about anyone or anything.
I too moved on, a few paces later, coming up behind a noticeably tall girl, with dirty blonde dreadlocks, my eyes drawn to her footwear. White faux fur calf length boots, matted with the mud and small twigs of the alleyways. She shuffled beside a paunchy, unshaven, aged street tough. Although still playing the role, he had the air of someone beaten, fatigued. In this instance he was clearly the provider, able to provide her escape as he nonchalantly passed her two pills. He too was oblivious to embarrassment or any fear of getting caught.
People all living life in short instalments.
This is the Granville of old and the Granville of new. Nothing has the appearance of change in the last thirty years, while those disaffected and disenchanted are growing in numbers and pushing further outward.
Granville street is often now considered part of the infamous downtown Eastside (DTES)–just an extension off the Main and Hastings decayed and rotting epicentre. These further flung streets just purgatory to the centre hell. A neighbourhood which Wikipedia euphemistically describes as a “complex set of social issues” with a “strong community resilience”.
It is indeed a “complex” experiment if viewed from a distance through a prescribed social worker prism of generalizations and psycho/social theories. More pointedly it is an economic, political and social unmitigated disaster with no one accountable and the general public seemingly numb to the obvious.
Through the years we have been fed a continually regurgitated social theory pablum. We are over-dosing on the the do-gooders of the liberal left who are continually feeding us the pieties of helping others. This neighbourhood is a world of social workers, counsellors of very stripe, nurses, firefighters, police, doctors, housing authorities, drug experts, safe-injection sites, safe spaces, food banks, shelters, city planners, and single room occupancy hotels– part of a permanent but seemingly always crumbling infrastructure.
This city and those at the political centre are in effect promulgating an empire. An empire that caters to this underworld, but in turn is fed and nourished by the continuing misery and never-ending poverty.
These practitioners of the victim philosophy when confronted with the clear lack of progress spew forth a continual patter of under-funding and under-resourcing. They portray the “burned” out, saints in the battle and the burden they carry on society’s behalf.
Over and over again the city, provincial and federal politicians bray and echo the demands for greater funding and resources. They are the very epitome of always expecting and predicting that more of the same will yield those different results.
Depending upon who is drawing the geographical borders, the DTES is only about 7,000 people, but is often measured up to include parts of central downtown and further east. It then could total about 18,000 persons, a total of 30 blocks. Apparently the governments can not even agree on the size of the “community”. In actuality, most identify the core as about 10 city blocks.
This “community” according to Wikipedia, has an “over representation” of single males, and Indigenous and this a community overwhelmed with mental health and addiction issues.
There is a definable timeline to this ongoing deterioration.
It was during the 1980’s that the idea of this area becoming a drug haven began to develop and combined with a severe housing shortage.
In 1989 the first needle exchange began
In 1997 HIV infections entered the fray.
Between 1980 and 2002, 60 women went missing from the neighbourhood. (Pickton claimed to have killed 49 of them)
In 2003 the safe injection (they are now called “consumption” sites) sites opened.
In 2007 Vancouver Coastal Health estimated that 2,000 DTES residents “exhibit behaviours that is outside the norm”.
In 2008, the Vancouver Police Department estimated that 500 persons were “chronically mentally ill with disabling addictions, extreme behaviours, no permanent housing, and regular police contact”
Riverview hospital closed in 2012, because the government wanted to “de-institutionalize” the “mentally ill”, and with that wisdom forced many patients onto the streets.
Somewhat more currently, in 2013 a study showed that in the single room occupancy units, 95.2% had substance dependence while 74.4 % had some form of mental illness. 82% live alone and have a median age of 44 years old.
Around 2014 fentanyl began to replace heroin as the drug of choice and the amount of street deaths began to escalate.
In 2018 the area was declared a “public health emergency”.
Clearly, this litany of failure has nothing to do with an un-caring government, it is the failure of liberal policies unable to make their way out of this North American disgrace. These socially enlightened governments have purported and extolled many policies and the money has flowed accordingly. Four pillars, three pillars, task forces, committees and advisory groups have flourished.
Since 2009 it is estimated that $1.4 billion has gone into this relatively small area. That is $360 million per year, or $6.92 million per week.
At last count there are over 250 social service agencies in the DTES.
75% of the money comes from the three levels of government.
In a study done by Simon Fraser University, they found that $26.5 million of the government funding was spent on just 300 frequent offenders who were on the streets and continually embroiled in the justice system. This study further stated that there “was no evidence of improvement” and that the costs incurred per person exceeded the average per capita income in the city.
This has not been a problem where the aristocracy have pushed these people to the street, where uncaring capitalism has reigned over them. This a problem that has developed under a socialist environment and exponentially grown after successive Liberal and NDP governments. Those that forever proclaim looking after and being concerned for the common man.
Provincially the NDP ruled since 1991 beginning with Premier Harcourt and in 2001 with Glen Clark. Then along came the Liberals from 2001-2011, and now back to the NDP in 2017. The socially enlightened individuals have been in power throughout.
On the Federal side, since 1993 the Liberals have been in power except for a four year stint under Conservative Harper and we are now back to the present day Liberals under that irrepressible woke leader himself.
On the municipal side the parade of do-gooders started off with Larry Campbell, Sam Sullivan, then three terms with Gregor Robertson, and finally we have arrived at Kennedy Stewart. All of whom would proudly proclaim themselves as “progressives”.
So as we swim in this sea of social workers and broad minded politicians we are buoyed by massive amounts of money– yet, the streets stay the same. In fact they get worse.
It is an insult to reason. It is cold and lacking of any real compassion.
It calls for a truly new attempt to salvage what has been destroyed over decades. Or do we believe that this problem is insurmountable? We are in the 21st century, filled with driverless vehicles, satellite connectivity to the entire world, and have enjoyed unbridled prosperity, but this problem somehow confounds us?
Maybe let’s start with a massive forensic audit of all three levels of government.
It requires a central decision maker which excludes and ignores the three levels of government.
It needs a full assessment and culling of the 250 agencies who are now part of the system.
It needs enforcement of the Mental Health Act and it requires the authority to remove people from the street who clearly can not look after themselves. A forced drug withdrawal not a system of choices.
We should be building psychiatric hospitals rather than housing units. Definitely not housing units in the midst of the drug and criminal centres.
Is this too harsh? As one who has personally searched the streets on behalf of family friends, looking for the addicted younger sister, just to see if she is still breathing, but unable to entice her away from the diseases she was facing. Are we doing that person a favour by simply giving them a safe place to shoot up or a safe needle? Isn’t it all because we can not face the brutal truth that some may need to be forced into therapy and into hospitals?
The latest pushed policy is to provide hard drugs to the addicted free of charge thereby insuring that the drugs are safe, not fentanyl laced. Probably a good thing, but it will not clean up the streets, the tent sites, or curtail the violence. We will continue to be Canada’s safe harbour for those wounded by drugs or psychiatric disorders.
Maybe we should take those politicians that volunteer to dole out Xmas turkey dinners (with requisite photo ops) and put them in a position where they can daily view the destruction.. Let’s let them jab the needle of Narcan into the twitching chest of the addict laying in their own urine; let them attend to the sixteen year old girl beaten repeatedly, blood leaking from a broken nose and teeth, unrecognizable to anyone who knows her, whose crime was not cooperating with her block pimp. Let’s let them help hoist the body in the white body bag from the alleyway into the back of the station wagon, the stench of death indistinguishable from the nearby over-flowing Smithrites.
Over the years I have known many on the street level who have to be admired for their steadfast dedication, their ability to relate and talk to those no one else will talk to, whether manning an SRO or a needle exchange. But in small moments of honesty they will all admit that they are on a treadmill of policy and politics. This is not a problem at the ground level. This is a problem on the next level up, and the level above that.
The people in positions of authority need to be taken out of the committee meeting rooms, removed from the ever revolving academic theories in sociology 100 classrooms– their collective faces pushed into the sewage of the decrepit and disillusioned.
The madness needs to stop. It requires hard policies and a hard heart –that is if you actually care about this “community” and the people swirling around the drain.